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Regional News | Article published Thursday, May 8, 2003
2 pumps at Besse no good, firm says
Utility will repair or replace devices

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


LISLE, Ill. - FirstEnergy Corp. left little doubt yesterday about the status of two pumps essential for protecting the region in the event of a major accident at Davis-Besse: They’re inoperable.

The utility acknowledged that flatly during a 31/2-hour meeting at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Midwest regional office west of Chicago. The utility also updated regulators on its plans for addressing several of the plant’s remaining design flaws that have been identified during a 15-month shutdown.

FirstEnergy has known for weeks that a pair of devices known as high-pressure injection pumps probably had to be fixed or replaced before Davis-Besse resumed operation. The company yesterday made it official by declaring them inoperable.

The project is a big-ticket item that could potentially add millions to the utility’s costs and leave the beleaguered plant idle until at least mid to late summer, officials have said.

Both pumps are precision-built units of 11 components that would be called upon to work in unison and inject coolant water over the reactor if an accident occurred. The constant circulation of water would be necessary to help keep the core from melting.

FirstEnergy identified the problem in the fall while doing an intensive study of lingering design issues.

The company found bearings in the high-pressure pumps might fail if clogged by debris that had passed through the containment sump. The sump would suck coolant water off the containment building’s floor. Rendering the pumps useless could create a scenario in which they might not be able to recirculate sump water over the reactor core at a critical time, officials have said.

Jim Powers, the plant’s engineering director, told the NRC the pumps might have worked, but the company grew concerned about them. It still hasn’t decided if it’s going the repair or replacement route.

Lew Myers, chief operating officer of the utility’s nuclear subsidiary, told The Blade the decision will depend on results of an off-site lab simulation likely to occur in a few weeks. A consulting firm hopes to show that strainers it is designing for the pumps would filter out fine debris and be self-cleaning.

FirstEnergy is on a parallel path for new pumps in case the repair option hits a snag.

It has signed an agreement to buy an unused pair of high-pressure pumps built for a never-completed plant in eastern Washington. Those pumps are a contingency: They aren’t the preferred option because they would have to be retrofitted and downsized to fit Davis-Besse, Mr. Myers explained.

"We believe either option will provide adequate protection," Mr. Powers told the NRC.

Plant officials said they had 1,200 potential design issues brought to their attention during the shutdown. Most have been resolved. The remaining ones of greatest significance have been grouped into four areas of concern - the high-pressure injection pumps, the plant’s electrical distribution system, its air-operation valves, and its emergency diesel generator, officials said.

Gary Leidich, the nuclear subsidiary’s executive vice president, said the company has made a lot of progress, but that there’s a "fair amount of work left to go" before restart.

"We have really challenged the design documentation of this plant. It’s been a robust challenge," he said.

Bob Schrauder, support services director, told the NRC many of the design issues stemmed from errant calculations, not necessarily faulty equipment. Enough conservatism was built into the plant’s systems to compensate for many of the flaws, albeit the timing for some equipment might be off.

"We believe they would have achieved their safety function. It just would have been later down the road," he said.

Jack Grobe, NRC oversight panel chairman, said the agency can’t assume that.

"I understand and accept your statements," he told Mr. Schrauder, "but we don’t have the capability to analyze them yet." He said the NRC has "multiple additional weeks of effort" remaining with its inspections.

Davis-Besse has been idle since refueling began Feb. 16, 2002. Three weeks later, employees found the reactor head severely eroded, prompting investigations and leading to the discovery of latent design issues.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse



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